Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

"And who is my neighbor?"  Luke 10:29

   "Who is my neighbor?"  If you had asked that question to me as a child, I would have answered, the people living next door.  As I grew older that simple answer did not suffice.  It does not suffice because of the lesson Jesus gives in the Gospel.

  When the scholar of the law asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?", Jesus answers with the story of the "Good Samaritan" (John 10:29).  We must remember well that Jews and Samaritan were at odds with each other. They had nothing to do with one another.  Their animosities were ancient and too complex to pursue here.  We just need to keep in mind that it was highly unlikely, if not unbelievable, that a Samaritan would interrupt his journey to assist a Jew who had fallen victim to robbers. 

  The story is further highlighted by the fact that the "Good Samaritan" does what the Jew?s own religious leaders fail to do.  The priest and Levite ignore him.  They go their way. They pass him by.

  The "Good Samaritan" on the other hand "approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him" (John 10:34).  This is not enough, however.  The "Good Samaritan" spends the night at the inn, gives extra money to the innkeeper, and asks the proprietor to take care of the victim and save the receipts if the expenses exceed what he has given him. Exceptional!  At this point comes the answer to the question about who is a neighbor.  "The one who treated him mercy" (John 10:37).
  We must be reminded at this point of a simple fact.  The Bible was not originally written in English.  When we return to the ancient languages of the Bible, we are told more about the word "neighbor."  Those two languages, Hebrew and Greek, tell us a great deal.  In Hebrew, the word "rea?" signifies being associated with someone, entering into his company.  While a brother is bound to you by a natural relationship, the neighbor is outside that relationship but can become a "brother."  In other words, with a neighbor the possibility exists of a deeper relationship.  For the Jew the fundamental relationship was his belonging to the People of God, Israel.

  In the Greek in which the New Testament was written, the word used for "neighbor" is "γειτονευω".  This Greek word removes the notion of "other" from "brother."  "γειτονευω" implies the neighbor who is brother or not. 

  So when the scholar of the law asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?", the scholar of the law probably thought of his neighbor as his brother, that is a member of his family, the People of Israel. In response, Jesus definitively transforms the idea of neighbor.

  First, Jesus exalts the commandment of love. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).  Then, Jesus broadens the commandment to include even enemies.  "Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors", He will teach in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:46).  Finally, in this parable of the "Good Samaritan", Jesus comes to the practical application of this commandment of love.  We are not the ones who define who our neighbor is.  Anyone in difficulty, even our enemy, becomes our neighbor.
  "Who is my neighbor?"  Need defines neighbor.